Many pathogenic streptococci produce extracellular hyaluronan lyases which are thought to aid the spread of the organism in host tissues. In addition, several phages of group A streptococci are known to synthesize a bound form of hyaluronidase. It has been suggested that the function of this hyaluronidase is to facilitate penetration of the hyaluronan capsule by phage and thus to gain access for the phage to the cell surface of the host streptococcus [Hynes, Hancock and Ferretti (1995) Infect. Immun. 63, 3015–3020]. In the present work, the hyaluronidase of Streptococcus pyogenes bacteriophage H4489A, expressed in E. coli, has been purified and characterized. The enzyme was shown to be a lyase with a distributive action pathway. Unlike most bacterial hyaluronidases that have been characterized, the phage enzyme was found to specifically cleave hyaluronan, which adds credence to the view that its function is to digest the hyaluronan capsule of the host organism. This bacteriophage lyase may provide a practical alternative to the lyase from Streptomyces hyalurolyticus as a reagent for the specific cleavage of hyaluronan.

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